film reviews

Streamers: Working-class heroes, dead-end turns, and Wong Kar-Wai

We'll take Wong Kar-Wai movies any way we can get them—and like it.

As we tentatively entertain the notion that a corner may have been turned in the nation’s battle against COVID-19, the prospect of returning to some sort of normalcy beckons like the flickering light of a film projector. If and when that happens, there will be a long list of films that skipped the arthouse/indie theater circuit and went straight to streaming. The goal with this column is to spotlight a couple of those worth the time and effort to catch at home, and to point out a couple more that, well, aren’t.

The World of Wong Kar-Wai

Sure, it would be better to watch the “Wonder Woman” sequel or Christopher Nolan’s latest mindbender on a 30-foot-high screen rather than a 30-inch-high one. But the 2020 cinematic event that might make you miss theaters more than any other is the seven-film retrospective of the work of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai. Bursting onto the scene in the early 1990s with vibrant, energetic tales such as “Days of Being Wild” and “Chungking Express,” Wong epitomized the possibilities of Hong Kong cinema beyond genre limitations, and the inherent promise of the city itself on the verge of its return to Chinese control.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in “In the Mood for Love” (Janus Films)

Enigmatic behind his omnipresent dark sunglasses, Wong became an icon of postmodern cinematic cool. His meandering, nonlinear narratives provided a sense of play and freedom, set in urban neon landscapes and populated by romantic, sometimes doomed souls. Working with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong tweaked the language of cinema in ways that have influenced such American filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Sofia Coppola. Among the stunningly attractive performers who’ve graced his films are Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and Gong Li.

Wong hasn’t directed a feature since 2013’s “The Grandmaster,” and the most recent entry in this retrospective is an hour-long, extended cut of his 2004 short film “The Hand.” But these films have an eternally contemporary feel, even when, like his 2000 masterpiece “In the Mood for Love,” they’re set in a poignantly recollected 1960s version of Hong Kong. That film, even more than the others, demands to be experienced on a big screen, where its lush costumes, gorgeous leads, and delicate aura of loneliness and hesitant romance can fully envelop a viewer.